Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go back and watch more than one game from Maponga this past season. But I had broken down last year’s bowl game, so I will also factor in my notes from that game as part of this evaluation.
Height: 6-1 7/8
School: Texas Christian
Speed: 4.81 (Campus)
Maponga was born in Zimbabwe, but moved to the United States when he was a child. His career path to the NFL mirrors that of Falcons teammate Jonathan Massaquoi. Massaquoi, a native of Liberia came to the U.S. at a young age as well. Massaquoi shined at Troy during his sophomore year, but his production fell off as a junior. But he wound up declaring for the NFL draft and probably not going as high as he initially envisioned (fifth round). Maponga had a strong sophomore campaign, emerging as one of TCU’s top pass rushers with 9 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He looked much more pedestrian as a junior, although he was somewhat limited by a broken foot in October. But he only managed 1 sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in the six games prior to the injury. His production actually went up over the final 5 games with 3 sacks and 4 tackles for loss. Maponga opted to declare for the draft. TCU has been a school that has produced a steady line of productive pass rushers at the collegiate level, but not as many have translated well to the pro game in recent years. Jerry Hughes has struggled in Indianapolis since being a top pick, and players like Chase Ortiz, Tommy Blake, and Wayne Daniels are recent players that produced at TCU, but could not translate at all to the NFL level. If Maponga does find success at the next level, he will be the first former Horned Frog since Aaron Schobel (2001-09). Maponga was primarily used as a left defensive end while at TCU, able to exploit the slower feet of many right tackles.
2012: 11 GP/9 GS, 26 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, 4.0 sacks, 0 INTs, 1 PD, 2 FF, 0 FR
– Missed 2 games due to injury in 2012 with a broken foot
2012 GAMES WATCHED
at Texas (11/22): 3 pressure, 0.5 sacks, 1 FR, 1 key blocked
2011 GAMES WATCHED
vs. Louisiana Tech (12/21): 2.5 pressures, 1 TFL, 1 run stuff
These are general skills required for his position and relative to not only top collegiate prospects, but also NFL players. Grades are based on a 10-point rating scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Strength (4.5) – Maponga tested well at the Combine on the bench press (30 reps), but you don’t see that sort of strength or power on the field. He can get pushed around a bit too easily by tight ends and often gets more than he gives when trying to take on a lead blocker. He isn’t a strong tackler either, missing a number of wrap tackles. He doesn’t show great power or strength when trying to use a bull rush.
Quickness (7.0) – Maponga has nice edge quickness, particularly when he’s in a wide technique and can pin his ears back. You get him in that track stance that is often used in the Wide-9 technique, and he can get upfield with his first step. He has enough speed to set up right tackles and thus has the potential to develop a good counter move. Right now, his spin move isn’t particularly effective as a counter move.
Pass Rush (5.0) – Maponga only really showed adeptness at the most basic speed rush off the edge. Will use his hands to slap down the punch of the offensive tackle with a basic swim move. Doesn’t really use a rip move. Showed ability to get extension with inside arm on the speed rush to generate some power. Knows how to get his hands inside when trying to bull rush, but largely non-effective since he lacks power and strength to drive blocker backwards.
Point of Attack (4.0) – Doesn’t quite know how to take on and shed blocks. Has trouble disengaging both as a run defender and pass rusher for those reasons. Can struggle getting initiate leverage against the run because of his lack of size and inability to anchor. Will get worked back by college tight ends on the kick-out block, thus likely going to struggle against much bigger NFL offensive tackles.
Recognition (4.0) – Doesn’t show great recognition against the run, unable to make plays in space despite having the athleticism to do so. Not particularly comfortable when he was asked to drop into coverage and play space. Will get caught out of position trying to fly upfield and lose gap integrity. Also will get caught out of position against the zone-read.
Motor (7.0) – Continues to chase plays downfield and flashes enough speed and range to think he can make some plays in space. Keeps playing to the whistle, and will look to deliver a hit to the ballcarrier even if he’s 20 yards downfield.
Maponga has tools to develop as a pass rusher, but not to the level where he is probably more than an above average backup. His speed rush can be effective at times, but he needs quite a bit of polish. That’s why he’s really a late round project that is good enough to garner fifth round consideration, but probably doesn’t have the upside to go higher than that.
Grade: 3.6 – Definitely has the tools to stick on the NFL level as a reserve, but not quite of the skillset that he may have trouble sticking long-term with most teams. Tends to become journeymen. Have enough tools in most necessary areas that he should be able to contribute off the bench as a role player. Click here for more information on my grading system.
Maponga reminds me some of Cliff Avril and a lot of Lawrence Sidbury. Like Avril, he’s a fairly one-note player that does his best work when he can line up in wide techniques and fly upfield with his speed rush. Both are poor against the run, as Maponga struggles to take on and get off blocks at the point of attack. He’s not a particularly good tackler despite decent speed and motor to make plays in pursuit. Maponga can play with his hand on or off the ground, but mainly just needs to be in a position to use his speed. His role with TCU was often similar to how the Falcons used John Abraham last year, playing defensive end but rushing quite a bit from a two-point stance. That means that Maponga should fit in nicely as a developmental right end for the Falcons under Mike Nolan. Unfortunately for Maponga, he doesn’t quite have Avril’s burst off the edge. Avril can get away with being a one-note player because he’s exceedingly good at the single note. Maponga is solid, but he’s going to have to become a much more well-rounded player if he is to stick long-term in the NFL.
And that’s where the Sidbury comparison comes to bear. As far as pass rushing potential, I would put Maponga and Sidbury at about the same level. Enough speed off the edge to challenge many starting tackles, but not quite at a level where he can consistently beat them. That limits both players to essentially situational roles, where they are going to have to help boost a rotation, and be guys that can add a handful of sacks every year. Like Sidbury before him, in Maponga’s case it will likely be against the weakest competition they face. For example, in the 2011 season opener Sidbury was able to take advantage of J’Marcus Webb, who was widely considered to be among the worst starting tackles in the entire league then.
But Sidbury struggled in two other areas: against the run and on special teams, both preventing him from really getting the reps his pass rush ability deserved. With players like John Abraham and Kroy Biermann ahead of him as far as third downs went, had Sidbury been a more consistent producer there he could have garnered more reps on run downs. I think it’s going to be a major challenge to get Maponga to a point where he is good enough to carve out significant reps there. But if he can get better there, then it might better his odds since players like Umenyiora, Biermann, Massaquoi, and Goodman are likely to get first dips in pass situations.
But the lack of value on special teams was really what killed Sidbury in Atlanta. The Falcons tried him early on in his rookie season in that role, but it never took. And it led to the team deactivating him on Sundays because if you’re not a regular on defense then you have to be able to play special teams. That’s why players Cliff Matthews and Jonathan Massaquoi were able to pass Sidbury in 2012 since both of those young players showed they can produce on special teams coverage.
If Maponga wants to earn early playing time, it’s paramount he stick on special teams. Because the truth is that for the foreseeable future, Maponga probably isn’t going to be able to carve out a significant role on defense as a pass rusher. He has upside worth developing since he has a nice speed rush. But unless he can develop a power rush to go with it, he’s a fairly one-dimensional player that doesn’t have the tools to excel at that single dimension. If Maponga shows he can play on special teams, it will make it a lot easier for the Falcons to justify keeping him on the roster, especially if he cannot quite crack the rotation a few years down the road. And while I think Maponga could help out the Falcons rotation if and when he develops, he doesn’t really bring anything more to the table that Matthews, Massaquoi, and Sidbury do or did before him. I could see Maponga developing ultimately into a player that can get 3 to 5 sacks per year as a situational player that comes in on third downs. But he won’t get that chance unless he takes advantage of earlier opportunities on special teams.
The Falcons basically just replaced Lawrence Sidbury with the same player by selecting Maponga. But Maponga has a chance to become more than Sidbury if he becomes a more well-rounded player that can contribute in a variety of ways.